Convening of the 10th Parliament happened on Thursday, January 12, 2012. I observed at the Parliament on that day that the House proceeded to institute the elections process for the Speaker and Deputy Speaker before Members of Parliament (MPs) were sworn-in.
I thought then that that was odd because MPs were voting prior to their becoming legally-constituted. Nonetheless, there may have been good reasons and existing parliamentary rules for this modus operandi.
At any rate, the most important business of that event was the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House. Both were elected through a simple majority of members present and voting in the House, where the elected Speaker and Deputy Speaker came from the combined Opposition.
While this action may not be erroneous from a majority-minority perspective, it seems to be inconsistent with what prevails in several parliamentary democracies, namely, that the Speaker generally comes from the ruling party. Here is a list of Speakers in some of those democracies:
India: Smt. Meira Kumar (ruling Congress Party, main coalition partner) is the Speaker of the House in the Lok Sabha.
Singapore: Mr. Michael Palmer (ruling People’s Action Party) is the Speaker of the Singapore Parliament.
Great Britain: Mr. John Bercow (ruling Conservative Party, main coalition partner), is the Speaker of the House of Commons.
Mr. Andrew Scheer (ruling Conservative Party of Canada), is the Speaker of the House of Commons, Canada.
New Zealand: Dr. Lockwood Smith (ruling National Party), is the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Trinidad and Tobago: Mr. Wade Mark (ruling UNC, main coalition partner) is the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Barbados: Mr. Michael Carrington (ruling Democratic Labor Party) is the Speaker of the House of Assembly.
St. Lucia: Mr. Peter Foster (ruling St. Lucia Labor Party) is the Speaker of the House.
In India’s parliamentary democracy, the following holds: “One of the first acts of a newly constituted House is to elect the Speaker. Usually, a member belonging to the ruling party is elected the Speaker.
A healthy convention, however, has evolved over the years whereby the ruling party nominates its candidate after informal consultations with the Leaders of other Parties and Groups in the House. This convention ensures that once elected, the Speaker enjoys the respect of all sections of the House” (Office of the Speaker Lok Sabha).
Nevertheless, there is the view of some in Guyana that a simple majority of the MPs to elect the Speaker and Deputy Speaker minus informal inter-party consultations could supersede the parliamentary convention that the Speaker generally should emanate from the ruling party.
The raison d’être of this convention is intended to create an environment, where the elected Speaker would command full authority within parliamentary chambers.
I am not sure, that in the first meeting of the 10th Parliament, in a situation of total partisan voting possibly producing an erosion of trust and confidence in that parliamentary environment, whether the elected Speaker and Deputy Speaker can effectively function.
Disregard of this parliamentary convention brings to the fore the issues and intrigue surrounding the December 7, 1964 election in Guyana, where the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) with the most votes, and which could have been the ruling party, was denied the right to constitute the government; in the same way in the current situation, where international parliamentary convention supports the Speaker coming from the ruling party, and where there now seems to have been a breach of this convention. Let me explain further the situation in 1964 to show the linkage with the present parliamentary imbroglio.
This past December 7, 2011, symbolized 47 years for the notorious 1964 Election Day in British Guiana (now Guyana). The U.S. and British Governments forced this election upon the Guyanese people in a perpetual effort during the Cold War to do away with the PPP from office vis-à-vis a new electoral deal, Proportional Representation (PR). The election produced the following results:
|Party||Votes, 1964||% Votes, 1961||% Votes, 1964|
Even though the PPP obtained the majority of votes, and was the only Party to increase its percentage of votes over the 1961 election, the Governor breached British conventions that would allow Dr Cheddi Jagan as leader of the Party with majority votes to set up the government. As an alternative, the Governor, by means of a constitutional amendment, called on Mr. Burnham of the People’s National Congress (PNC) to form a government with the assistance of the United Force (UF).
Furthermore, in the current state of affairs, the total partisan voting to elect the Speaker and Deputy Speaker is not a ‘coming together’, for the voting behavior exposes the non-resolution to several challenges to ‘coming together’ I mentioned in last week’s letter, published in the media.
I will now present two of those challenges based on Professor Spear’s work, to demonstrate that there was no ‘coming together’ at the first meeting of the 10th Parliament.
Here is one challenge to ‘coming together’: When parliament or a similar-type body endorses a measure, a party leader may experience a sense of betrayal as a result of competing interests among all the parties; also, a party leader may feel shortchanged in relation to the endorsement itself. Here is a second challenge: where in a devious situation, party leaders may attempt to damage political competitors.
This total partisan voting for such high offices – Speaker and Deputy Speaker – did little to create trust and inclusiveness in an effort to address these challenges to ‘coming together’ in a spirit of cooperation and unity. And the combined opposition’s call to have a greater role in the forthcoming national budgetary formulations is a further demonstration of no attempt to address challenges impinging on ‘coming together’; because in any ‘coming together’, a pre-condition has to be that party leaders acknowledge their political status and role within the formal structure. Then negotiations proceed.
Any such non-acknowledgement and non-acceptance may motivate people toward attempting to appropriate other people’s status and role; this is not the way toward achieving interdependence vis-à-vis negotiations.
This behaviour does not bode well for ‘coming together’ and creating inclusiveness. The government has executive responsibilities, and the combined opposition’s legislative power lies within the National Assembly.
Useful negotiations for ‘coming together’ would only unfold when, for starters, there is that acknowledgement of the prevailing status quo, and addressing the challenges for ‘coming together’.
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